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Uncharted: Golden Abyss Review: Drake's triumphant outing is Vita's best launch game

Drake returns for a little big adventure

So there are two ways to look at Uncharted: Golden Abyss. You could see it as the one Naughty Dog isn't making, with the absence of the series' regular developer signalling the cynical exploitation of the Uncharted franchise, a lack of top-level investment in PS Vita, and the end of Western civilisation as we know it. That's a valid view - Nintendo brings its big boys out to play on 3DS. Why aren't Sony's A-team getting involved?

The other way to look at it is as the one that still stars Nolan North as Nathan Drake, the presence of the game's charismatic star highlighting the fact that the groundbreaking production practices initiated by Naughty Dog are still in place, that the game is as character and story-focused as ever. And you're still in for a hell of a ride.


The truth, as it always, falls somewhere between the two, although happily (particularly for those who've just mortgaged a limb for the sake of early adoption) a little closer to jolly option B than cynical option A. The absence of Naughty Dog is a legitimate worry - after all Sony's talk about developer support, its own team has found better things to do with The Last Of Us - but Sony Bend has handheld experience, and sensibly follow the established template while risking only occasional flourishes.

Actually, Drake's new caretakers deserve more credit than that. They've successfully transferred the finest experience on PS3 to a new machine, no doubt with strict instructions to make full use of all that machine's eclectic functionality no matter how logically it can be applied to gameplay. And the worst you can say about the raft of new controls is that some of them waft past ineffectually like warm air, such as the touchscreen quick time events with fingertip shape-tracing replacing the more familiar rhythmic button taps.

Except for the spirit-level beam balancing, of the kind seen in the very first Uncharted when it looked like we were all going to have to pretend that Sixaxis motion controls were brilliant indefinitely. It is just as pointless and irritating here as it was four years ago.


But! The occasional bit of tightrope walking is forgiven when stacked up against the excellent work done with Vita's controls elsewhere. At first the idea of stroking the path between ledges and handholds that you'd like Drake to follow seems like brainless shortcutting, but it's actually a relief from grunting control mishaps.


Even more impressively some of the persistent niggles from the PS3 games are finally ironed out,: trying to find the sweet spot to engage with a ledge and marching Drake to an inexplicable suicide (maybe the piled corpses of faceless pirates were beginning to weigh heavily), or picking up a specific gun from a tangled sprawl of dropped weapons. Neither of these are a factor now that you can simply press the ledge you'd like to dangle from, or the still-warm dead guy's rifle you'd like to kill his friends with.

In fact weapons in general get a good deal. Chucking grenades is just a matter of tap-dragging the on-screen icon towards clusters of your faceless victims, while the tilt sensors can be used for aiming - like, actually used, rather than lurched in the general direction of enemies. Make the most of this by combining it with the regular aiming to score headshots, nudging the reticule that final millimetre or two with a gentle roll of the PS Vita before kicking the trigger.

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